In a recent message from James 4:1-6 on fighting the war within, specifically pride and worldliness, a listener asked, “Where do we draw the line between worldliness and godliness? For example, we need to work to provide for our families, but when does that become materialistic? In excess? Proud?”
To help provide some insight, I’ve asked two guys from my E3 class to chip in their answers—Dale Hight and Nick Moklestad.
Incidentally, what is E3? It’s FFC’s initial, year-long training environment for men who sense they may be called to vocational ministry. It’s an internship of sorts for potential pastors, an opportunity to get a “behind-the-scenes” look at preaching and pastoring, a chance to enter, experience, then exit. Thus, the name E3.
Oh, their answers? Here you go. And while I didn’t edit their answers, I do give my own .02 worth at the end.
Dale responds, “Attempting to draw the line between worldliness and godliness is a dangerous undertaking. It is dangerous because we all have the tendency to place the line under our own terms rather than God’s Word in order to justify our actions. Instead of asking where the line can be drawn, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, what is my heart’s desire? In Luke 9, when that man asked Jesus permission to say goodbye to his family before he followed Him, Jesus simply called him out because his heart was not truly with Him. It belonged to another. Attempting to draw a line is a lot like picking and choosing when to follow the Lord and when not to. It’s a lot like trying to make a deal with God so you can enjoy sin for a while. The problem is, this isn’t a deal to be made with God. God doesn’t make deals. He wants all of you. At your heart’s finite point of worldliness or godliness, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). So, work to provide for your family, not for the sake of your family, but for the sake of God’s glory. It’s always about the Lord. The line is crossed when it’s not about the Lord.”
Nick replies, “That’s a good question, and one that I wrestle with personally on an ongoing basis. I would say one of the key questions that will get to the heart of the problem is this: who or what are we worshipping? Or in other words, what are we ascribing ultimate worth to and looking for fulfillment in? Although we could apply this to many different areas of life, for the sake of time let’s look specifically at the example that was given in the question regarding work. It’s not sinful or ‘worldly’ to work hard and be successful at our jobs. God uses our work in so many different ways. Not only it is a means of providing for our needs, but by doing our work well and with a joyful attitude we are reflecting God’s image to those around us. Furthermore, God uses our various professions to bring about human flourishing in the world. However, where I think this can start to take a turn down a sinful and worldly path is when we turn work into a ‘god.’ This may look different from person to person, so it requires an honest examination of your heart motives. Although many examples could be given, here is one possible scenario that might help you to identify whether this is becoming an issue for you. For example, lets say you have a job that only requires you to put in a standard 40-hour week, and by putting in that time you can do your job well, have plenty of money to provide for your family, and stay competitive in your department. However, despite all of that you decide to regularly put in tons of overtime, consistently working 11-12 hours each day, not because you have to, but because you think it makes you look superior to everyone else and causes your pride to swell. You also think you need that extra money to buy a nicer car, a bigger TV, or more expensive clothing. And on top of that, by putting in all of those extra hours you might be sacrificing precious time with your spouse and kids, or neglecting time in the Word and in prayer, or using it as a shield to avoid being involved in the church. At that point you need to press pause and ask yourself whether you have made your job an idol. If you love your job more than God and other people, at that point I would say you have crossed over into worldliness and pride and you need to reevaluate your priorities. Hope that helps a bit.”
My thoughts? It’s a matter of motives. This is not to say there aren’t actual habits or actions that are decidedly worldly, but it is to say that the majority of the issue is our motives. Worldliness is primarily about the why, not the what.